This riff on Caprese salad recipe is packed with flavor, beautiful to look at, and can be made in 20 minutes! The balsamic reduction is the perfect addition to make these simple ingredients pop.
Caprese salad is a Summertime favorite at our house. It tastes great and makes for a beautiful presentation at the table because of the vibrant colors.
Have you ever had Pasta alla Vodka Sauce? It is rich and flavorful and pairs wonderfully with this Caprese salad.
Let’s be real, we eat this salad a lot since our garden produces loads of tomatoes every summer, and there are only so many BLTs a person can eat. Did I really just say that?
Seriously though, it's delicious. The magical ingredient in this version is the balsamic reduction: it has just the right amount of tang and sweetness. Drizzled on sparsely, it's a delicious accent to the fresh flavors of the dish.
Below is an outline of topics: feel free to jump around or follow along in order.
What is Caprese salad?
Caprese salad, also known as tomato and mozzarella salad, is a no-cook salad made from a handful of fresh, vibrant ingredients.
The salad originated during the 1920s in Capri, Italy (thus "Caprese"): as one story goes, the inventor Caprese salad wanted to pay tribute to all things Italy. Notice how the colors of the ingredients are the same as Italy’s flag, Green, White and Red?
Er, how does balsamic vinegar fit into that picture?
Answer: it doesn't. Balsamic vinegar is not native to Capri.
An important caveat with this recipe is that it is a riff on Caprese salad, and is therefore not authentic. Were this an authentic Caprese salad recipe, the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil would be dressed only with salt and good-quality extra virgin olive oil. And I encourage you to try it that way!
I've had it both ways, and they're both delicious. What I like about adding a light drizzle of balsamic reduction is that every few bites, you get a pop of complex tart-sweetness that is a perfect foil for the richness of the cheese.
What is in a Caprese salad?
Caprese salads consist of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and a dressing.
Let's look at each of these components separately.
Best tomatoes for Caprese salad
The main thing to look for when choosing a tomato is that it is ripe and in season. We are looking for robust, fresh flavor. Ideally use tomatoes from your garden or that you find at your local farmers market. Below are various types tomatoes that are widely available in the U.S. and will work for this salad:
Let’s talk Mozzarella
For this salad, it's best to use fresh mozzarella, which is usually in the shape of a ball and is packed in a brine solution.
The absolute best mozzarella for Caprese salad is made from buffalo’s milk. Unfortunately, this is hard to find locally, but worthwhile if you can source it.
Ideally, you'd cut the mozzarella the same size as the tomatoes. So, for large tomatoes, you'd want mozzarella of similar diameter, cut to the same thickness. You can see in some of my pictures that my mozzarella was much smaller in diameter than the tomato I pulled from the garden, so I simply cut it thicker.
Or, you can put 2 slices side-by-side on one slice of tomato.
If you're using grape or cherry tomatoes, you could slice up bite-sized mozzarella (called Bocconcini).
Only use vibrant green, fresh basil. We use only the leaves, and we want to make sure no they're free of any browning or wilting.
Dressing for Caprese salad
Again, the authentic dressing would be nothing more than a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I like to sprinkle the salad with a reduced balsamic dressing or glaze. Reducing the vinegar creates an amazing flavor that really pops with these ingredients.
Balsamic glaze for Caprese
To make the balsamic glaze, add balsamic vinegar and honey to a sauce pan, mix, and simmer on low until reduced by half. Simple!
How to make Caprese salad
You can assemble the Caprese salad on a platter, or mix it in a bowl for another riff on the classic.
Slice the fresh mozzarella and tomatoes into equal thicknesses, no more than ⅜ inch. On a platter, layer a tomato slice, mozzarella slice, and a basil leaf. Make sure to stagger them so that part of each ingredient is showing. Feel free to be creative here: arrange the salad in a circle, rows, or be random. It's a whimsical salad.
You can also tear basil directly over the top. Finally, drizzle the balsamic glaze lightly over the top.
Caprese salad bowl
This one is really simple. In a large salad bowl, add cubed mozzarella (or bocconcini) and chopped tomatoes. Drizzle balsamic glaze lightly over each serving and top with torn basil leaves.
IMPORTANT: Add the fresh basil and balsamic glaze right before serving. Basil tends to wilt and turn dark and bitter after a short period of time.
What to serve with Caprese salad
Caprese salad can be served as an appetizer or a side dish.
Ideally we love to eat this salad with Italian-inspired dishes like Baked Lasagna Bowls, Grilled Italian Sausage Sandwiches with Pepper-Onion Foil Packs, or Work-ahead Chicken Rollatini (Chicken Rollups).
It also goes well with any summer dish like Grilled Ribeye Steaks with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms, Smoked Ribs (Charcoal Grill or Smoker) or Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Chimichurri Sauce.
The most important thing is to serve it when tomatoes are in season so they are at their peak of flavor—not those pale, mealy things you find in the middle of Winter.
Is Caprese salad healthy?
Absolutely. It's low in calories and even has some protein. Let’s look at the ingredients:
- Tomatoes: Well duh. . .we've never heard of a tomato being bad for you (unless you eat waaaaayyyy too many of them or have a nightshade allergy).
- Mozzarella: Cheese has great protein, but has a little fat. Everything in moderation!
- Basil: All good here!
- Balsamic reduction: Yes, yes, it has sugar. But since this reduction packs so much flavor, only a tiny amount is needed. Enjoy it.
Want more side dish and salad ideas?
Check out these favorites:
- Creamy Pasta Salad
- Chimichurri Pasta Salad
- Easy, Zippy Coleslaw
- Tangy 3-Bean Salad
- Loaded Baked Potato Salad
- Easy Greek Pasta Salad
- Summer Panzanella Salad (also great for using up Summer tomatoes!)
- Arugula-Shaved-Fennel Salad
For the Salad
- 3 heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors, trimmed and cut into ¼" slices (see Recipe Note #1)
- 1 lb. mozzarella, cut into ¼" slices
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the Balsamic Glaze
- 1 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
For the Balsamic Glaze
- Add ingredients to a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Simmer until reduced by half, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 2 weeks (bring up to room temperature before use).
For the Salad
- On a serving platter, arrange alternating layers: 1) tomato slice, 2) mozzarella slice, 3) a leaf of basil (see Recipe Note #2). Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Make it pretty! Lightly drizzle with the balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.
- Or use any large, flavorful slicing tomatoes.
- Alternatively, cut tomatoes and mozzarella into chunks and mix together in a bowl. Top each serving with a sprinkling of roughly chopped basil and a light drizzle of balsamic glaze.
For a more authentic version of Caprese salad, omit the balsamic glaze and replace with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 8 oz tomato and mozzarella, 1 teaspoon glaze
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 447Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 90mgSodium: 805mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 1gSugar: 22gProtein: 27g
Nutrition data provided here is only an estimate: if you are tracking this information for medical purposes, please consult a trusted external source. Thanks!